Teaching's Tough...Just Not for the Reasons You Might Think

When my friends or family who aren’t teachers speak of my job, few are willing to take the position of the stereotypical teacher basher and ridicule me for my “summers off” or my “8-3” schedule. I’m sympathetic to those forced to listen to such ignorant blowhards lobbing accusations of teachers being “lazy” and talking about how tenure makes it “impossible” to be fired as a teacher. I simply don’t surround myself with people who are so foolish as to believe that, and if they are, they’re certainly not courageous enough to say it to my face. Jsisyphus-e1292269771236

Instead, loved ones attempting to be sympathetic often speak of my profession in an odd tone bordering somewhere between respect and pity.  Strange, because I’m not one to play the martyr and whine and complain about difficult the job, but I suppose it does come up. I’m often met with a variety of well-intentioned statements like “Dude, I wouldn’t want to do what you do” or “It must be crazy, I remember how rude and disrespectful kids were when we were in school!”

Sometime’s the talk is more political, with things like “It’s bad enough you’re budget’s keep getting cut, then they shove more testing down your throat, right?” or “Isn’t this Common Core thing just going to screw things up worse?”


Yes friends, teaching is an extraordinarily difficult profession. But not for the reasons you think.

Yeah, some of the kids can be a bit challenging, but you know what? They’re the ones that need me the most. The “disrespectful” and impoverished kids who could care less about school? They won’t just benefit from great teachers, they NEED great teachers. Without it, they’re doomed. They need teachers to inspire them, to motivate them, to teach them to persevere and show them how to act with respect because CLEARLY these are elements missing in their lives. Oh, and those gifted, hardworking kids from loving, supportive families? They may not NEED a “great” teacher but they’ll benefit more too from a teacher with the passion and drive educate ALL students.

You’re right, I don’t get paid much relative to the education and expertise required. I understand market economics though – my profession doesn’t increase revenue for anybody and thus I’m stuck making what I do. Don’t feel bad for me, my family isn’t starving. I am a reasonably intelligent human being and I’m confident in my ability to make ends meet just fine. Getting “ahead” may be tough and I’ll never be wealthy, but I knew the circumstances when I signed up for this trip.

And yeah, the state does keep shoving more testing at me. Can I tell you a secret though? I don’t give a damn. Really, I don’t. I respect the tests sure. I REALLY want my students to do well, not because I’m afraid of repercussions but because I think the tests are at least AN indicator of student achievement. They’re far too flawed however for me to put too much stock in them. I respect the authority of state tests because they’re unfortunately how other, less-informed citizens judge me, my colleagues and our students. For that reason, I strive to be successful at them – but not at the expense of doing what I know is right for my students. Some teachers in some states are far more afraid of them – perhaps rightfully so – but me? Not so much. I know if I do right by my students and prepare them for lives ahead, they’ll do well enough on the tests and be better off for it in the long run.

Is Common Core the cure for what ails us? I really doubt it. Is it ruining my life and proving to be the cruel instrument of destruction that some are claiming. No. I spent a few weeks this summer sorting it out. You know, when I was allegedly on “vacation”.

Yes, teaching is an EXTRAORDINARILY difficult profession. But it’s not for any of these reasons.

The truth is, good teachers will automatically place more pressure on themselves than any state test ever could. We put our hearts and souls into the success of our students and when we can’t get through them, it breaks our hearts. We know how much they depend on us to challenge them, to provide structure for them, to show we care for them and to inspire them. Our students NEED us because we exist in a world between their parents whom they hide things from and their friends who know all too much. They’re stuck in a spiral of trying to fit in while trying to be themselves, even if they don’t who that is yet. They see us watching, and they reach out for our help.

Some are so gifted, they’re bored. They need us to provide direction and affirmation. Some are so broken, they just need us to can the curriculum and love them – tell them that it really does get better and show them the tools to make it happen.

It takes an extraordinary amount of emotional energy to try and make Math relevant for a kid who constantly shows up with mysterious bruises. It’s damn near impossible to motivate a student whose family celebrates their graduation from rehab by lighting a joint. Its heart wrenching when a teenager sobs and pours their heart out with stories of awful bullying by peers (and other teachers!) because they had the courage to admit to being gay….and couldn’t bare telling their parents.

It’s painfully time consuming to develop engaging, meaningful lesson plans designed to meet the needs of everybody from future Ivy Leaguers to future inmates. Teachers have their own families, their own children and they’re forced every day to make impossible decisions regarding the use of their time – occasionally having to put the needs of those future inmates ahead of the wants of their own children because while they’ll always be there for their own kids, their students are here but for a fleeting few moments. It’s an unfair circumstance, a moral and ethical tight rope few other professions are forced to walk.

Other professions are filled with completed projects, court cases won, illnesses cured or profits made. Our profession’s victories are so small they’re almost unnoticeable if you’re not watching carefully. Gratitude and praise for us often comes years later…if at all. There’s no raise or promotion for a job well done – and we couldn’t try any harder even if there was.

Professional Development is a never ending task…a daunting mountain of ideas and demands, hoops to jump through and requirements to fulfill. But it pales in comparison to the hours spent racking our brain trying to do what’s best for kids, doing EVERYTHING we know to reach that impossible student.

Then realizing we’d tried in vain.

The demands of an administrator may bring stress to our eyes….but those eyes are clouded by tears as we lie awake at night trying to shake the feeling that we’re failing as educators.

In the end, we only have each other. A brotherhood of colleagues who look at each other and just seem to “know” what you’ve been through without your ever saying a word. We’re left to eternally second guess and question ourselves, as everyday brings a new challenge that will drain our emotions, task our time and shake our confidence. Some of us having loving families who respect, support and appreciate our work. Some have families who resent us for it.

I wouldn’t trade the field of education for any other. I love what I do. I love who I work with, who I work for and what I’m able to do for kids. I love the rewards it brings me, even if only I see them and only for a moment.

But yeah….some days my job really sucks.

It’s just not for the reasons you might think.




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